A century after Aimee Semple McPherson opened the doors of Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, the movement she founded is still “dedicated unto the cause of inter-denominational and worldwide evangelism,” as is etched in the cornerstone of its birthplace. Today, Foursquare is growing leaders, sending chaplains and missionary workers, and planting churches in the U.S. and across the world.
Angelus Temple and Angelus Temple Hispanic Foursquare Church are marking the occasion with a special Centennial Celebration service on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, at 2 p.m. (PST); the Foursquare community is invited to join online. That is exactly one century after the newly erected 5,300-seat church welcomed worshipers to 10 services per week, not including adult Sunday school class, children’s church and Crusaders meetings for youth.
“One hundred years ago, The Foursquare Church was birthed as a movement committed to bringing the fullness of Jesus’ saving, healing, empowering and hope-filled life to the nations,” says President Randy Remington. “The original vision of our founder, to equip and empower workers for the harvest field, remains to this day. The Foursquare Church is committed to making disciples, developing leaders, planting churches and sending workers—currently in 156 nations and counting.”
Two days prior to this service, the NOW Conference will gather young adults in downtown Denver, expecting the Holy Spirit to move. Five weeks later, Life Pacific University (LPU) will host a three-day Foursquare Forum. It is designed to allow church leaders to reflect on the roles of modern identity formation and disciple-making. Capping the Forum will be a good old-fashioned tent revival on Friday evening, Feb. 10. It will use current media and technology to reimagine the historic revival that launched The Foursquare Church and LPU, founded in 1926 as L.I.F.E. Bible College.
The biggest time of celebration will be at Foursquare Connection, the movement’s annual meeting, May 29 – June 1 in Anaheim, Calif. The first session will kick off with a special celebration to mark Foursquare’s global impact: past, present and future.
“Just as pioneer missionaries courageously carried the fire of the Foursquare Gospel ‘around the world’ generations ago, ‘workers’ today possess that same courage, sacrifice and fiery anointing as they traverse modern barriers and borders to reach the unreached,” says Ted Vail, vice president of global operations. “Today we are on mission together, carrying this gospel throughout the world. Increasingly, we are persecuted, we are united, and the fire continues to spread.”
Capping the Centennial observances will be Foursquare Leader Conferences in the fall, hosted by local districts. Open to ministers, church staff and future leaders, these gatherings will feature times of prayer, worship and encouragement. This year they will also look at the life of Foursquare’s dynamic founder, whose story has been chronicled in books and by national media. The latter range from the Los Angeles Times to National Public Radio, Time magazine (which in 2020 named Aimee Semple McPherson one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century) and Christianity Today.
“The original vision of our founder, to equip and empower workers for the harvest field, remains to this day. The Foursquare Church is committed to making disciples, developing leaders, planting churches and sending workers—currently in 156 nations and counting.” —Randy Remington, president of The Foursquare Church (U.S.)
Arriving in Los Angeles
On the 100th anniversary of her arrival in Los Angeles in 1918, author Gary Krist wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Foursquare represented “a striking legacy for one extraordinary woman who had the audacity to believe that Los Angeles might indeed become a city of angels.”
Particularly noteworthy is Sister Aimee’s starting Angelus Temple less than three years after women secured the right to vote. And though many churches today frown on female leaders, LPU still prepares—and Foursquare licenses, ordains and encourages—women as senior pastors.
The one-time traveling evangelist and missionary left an indelible mark with her enthusiastic preaching, prompting historians to call her and Billy Sunday the two most significant revivalists of the early 20th century. Her healing ministry drew so much attention that sometimes ambulances would drop people off at services during her barnstorming tours across the U.S., with many physical healings documented by historians.
The packed auditoriums continued when she settled in Los Angeles, with thousands of converts receiving Christ. The evangelism, Holy Spirit power, and supernatural signs and wonders characterized Sister Aimee’s ministry.
In addition, she attracted attention with her famed illustrated sermons. They included adapting popular show tunes of the era for scripturally based messages on topics such as the second coming and healing. Sermon researcher Emily Plies, who went on to become a Foursquare pastor, recalled that these productions were as professional as anything coming out of Hollywood.
Indeed, actors and actresses, driving the short distance down Highway 101 from Hollywood, were among the crowds who flocked to these Sunday night productions. Different members of the filmmaking community would assist her with stage props and designs.
Angelus Temple was also the launching pad for KFSG, the pioneering radio station that went on the air in 1924 and helped spark Sister Aimee’s international following. Each week, her voice could be heard on the airwaves all the way to Australia.
Angelus Temple has since expanded to a sister church, Angelus Temple Hispanic Foursquare Church, filling an additional 1,000 seats each weekend.
Most important, the church became the impetus for an international body embracing the Foursquare Gospel—Christ’s fourfold ministry as Savior, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Healer and Soon-Coming King. Today there are 6.7 million members in 64,377 Foursquare congregations in 156 nations, according to 2022’s annual report.
While a celebrated figure from the time she arrived in Los Angeles, Sister Aimee knew her share of tragedy. That included the death of her first husband, Pentecostal preacher Robert Semple, just two years after their marriage while serving as missionaries in Hong Kong. Aimee gave birth to their child, Roberta, in Hong Kong before venturing back to the U.S.
Two other marriages would end in divorce, and over the years various controversies surrounded her. While preaching at a revival in Oakland in 1944, she succumbed to an overdose of sleeping pills, which was later determined to be accidental. Yet, Sister Aimee’s life still shows that broken believers can find hope in the same hope she had: God uses broken people.
Sister Aimee was a trailblazer in many ways, raising up future leaders through the Bible college she founded (now Life Pacific University). She confronted racism, as well, facing down Ku Klux Klan leaders, opening the Bible college to all races and cultures, and hiring Black leaders for her traveling gospel quartet.
Marie Johnson, the daughter of orchestra horn player Thomas Johnson, became the first Black Foursquare missionary to Brazil. Sister Aimee also ordained the first Black Foursquare minister in Los Angeles, a woman named Pearl Toliver, who graduated from L.I.F.E. in 1939 and was ordained in 1940.
Sister Aimee became a leader in charitable work, too, by opening a commissary at Angelus Temple in 1927. It distributed food, clothing and blankets, and led to the creation of free clinics and soup kitchens that fed an estimated 1.5 million during the Great Depression. Such work is carried on today by Foursquare Disaster Relief, which has provided food and relief supplies after earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters across the world.
Into all the world
Today, Foursquare is even larger globally than in the U.S., partially due to the movement’s commitment to sending missionaries to the least and to the lost, and to all the people on the earth. It is an identity point of Foursquare.
Other innovative outreaches that sprang from Sister Aimee’s example are house churches, the 21st-century version of an “Acts-style” community. In addition, church leaders and members come together for regular Cause Networks support around such topics as anti-human trafficking, campus ministry, foster advocacy and refugee care.
So, from one evangelist and one church with compassion, creativity and anointing has come a movement of tens of thousands of churches. Each endeavor to do the same as Foursquare multiplies its sending power across 156 nations, each church with the same potential as the first.
One hundred years and counting. What was a cornerstone marker now echoes throughout a movement as Foursquare dedicates itself to involving everyone to make the gospel globally common.